DALLAS — Former Maryland men’s basketball coach Gary Williams used the occasion to pay tribute to his former college players, while Alonzo Mourning acknowledged his debt to former Georgetown coach John Thompson Jr.
With humility, gratitude and pride, both were formally announced Monday as members of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’s class of 2014 — a group of 10 honorees from the college and professional ranks who will be inducted during ceremonies in Springfield, Mass., on Aug. 8.
“I stand here on the shoulders of so many other people,” said Mourning, 44, a seven-time NBA all-star, Georgetown graduate and member of the university’s Board of Directors, with a nod to his former coach, who attended the proceedings held in conjunction with the NCAA Final Four. “John Thompson taught me more about life than he did about basketball and prepared me for that next step.”
Williams, 69, a 1968 Maryland graduate who returned to College Park as head coach in 1989, cited four decades of players he had nurtured at American, Boston College, Ohio State and his alma mater, singling out Walt Williams and the members of the Terrapins’ 2002 NCAA championship team.
“I had two reserves that could have started for most teams.” Williams said. “It’s amazing how good a coach I was that year, with those players.”
Mourning and Williams were joined in the class of 2014 by Nolan Richardson, who coached Arkansas to the 1994 national championship; six-time NBA all-star Mitch Richmond, who played three seasons with the Washington Wizards from 1998 to 2001; Bob Leonard, the winningest coach in ABA history; Lithuania’s Sarunas Marciulionis, the NBA’s first Soviet player; former NBA commissioner David Stern, who shepherded three decades of unparalleled growth; and Immaculata University’s championship women’s teams of the early 1970s.
Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton, the first African American to sign an NBA contract, and Guy Rodgers, who led Temple to two Final Fours and became a four-time NBA all-star, were named posthumously.
Mourning attributed his ability to forge a productive life after basketball to the lessons he learned at Georgetown.
“It all started at Georgetown — that intellectual process stimulated me to the level I needed to be as a person,” Mourning said. “And Big John was the one that enforced it and helped me understand the importance of it.”
Thompson, a Hall of Famer himself, noted the challenges Mourning faced as a youngster in a foster home. To see all he has become since — student, NBA player, husband, kidney-transplant survivor, university official — filled the former coach with pride, and he called Mourning’s Hall of Fame honor fitting for all of those reasons.
“It doesn’t just encompass his basketball ability, which was enormous,” Thompson said. “So many things that he was able to accomplish himself.”
Thompson also praised Williams, the crosstown coaching rival with whom he’s often portrayed as having a frosty relationship.
“Anytime you compete against somebody, you’re glad of their accomplishments,” Thompson said. “Gary was deserving of being in the Hall of Fame, and I’m glad they acknowledged it and recognized it because of what he did at the University of Maryland.”
Williams, who last month was named to the College Basketball Hall of Fame, recalled parking himself beside his telephone last Wednesday at 10 a.m. and refusing to budge until the call came to inform him whether he had made the cut for the sport’s highest honor.
All he had ever wanted was to coach high school and, ideally, become as respected a member of his community as such legendary prep coaches as Morgan Wootten.
On Monday, glancing down the row of honorees, Williams said he was humbled beyond words by his fellow inductees’ achievements and particularly honored to join Richardson, a contemporary whose teams were noted for their coach’s “40 minutes of hell” approach to defense.
Richardson, 72, for his part, thanked the Lord for letting him live long enough to receive the honor, saying “there’s nothing left but Heaven.”
Monday’s ceremonies also recognized the top men’s and women’s point guards in college basketball. Connecticut’s Shabazz Napier received the Bob Cousy Award and was on hand nine hours before tip-off for Monday’s NCAA championship game against Kentucky, joined by Coach Kevin Ollie.
Baylor’s Odyssey Sims received the Nancy Lieberman Award, given to the top female point guard.
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